|Xenology - An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization|
© 1979 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved
About Xenology (the field)
Xenology is “the most comprehensive and systematic study of
Originally published in 2013 with tabbed-pages at GaianCorps.com (version 1). This 2018 edition is an upgrade — template, tabs, images and text/layout
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Xenology may be defined as the scientific study of all aspects of extraterrestrial life, intelligence, and civilization. Similarly, xenobiology refers to the study of the biology of extraterrestrial lifeforms not native to Earth, xenopsychology refers to the higher mental processes of such lifeforms if they are intelligent, and so forth.
The xeno-based terminology was first coined for this usage by the renowned science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (starting in The Star Beast, Scribner, New York, 1954 HTML commentary), though the first use of the related word "xenologist" is apparently attributable to L. Sprague de Camp ("The Animal-Cracker Plot," Astounding Science Fiction 69(July 1949); "The Hand of Zei," 1950).
This usage was subsequently defended by Heinlein and Harold A. Wooster in a 1961 article published in the journal Science (R.A. Heinlein, H. Wooster, "Xenobiology," Science 34(21 July 1961):223-225 PDF) and by Robert Freitas (CV) in a 1983 article published in the journal Nature (R.A. Freitas Jr., "Naming extraterrestrial life," Nature 301(13 January 1983):106 HTML HTML). The latter article drew a complaint ("Xenology disputed," Nature 302(10 March 1983):102) from four specialist researchers claiming to represent "20 research groups in at least eight countries" who preferred to retain use of "xenology" for the study of xenon concentrations in meteorites (an argument that would not apply to other uses of the xeno- prefix) but their plea has largely failed. By December 2008, Google listed 20,600 entries for "xenology" of which only 1140 referred to xenon and most of the rest referred to the extraterrestrial usage. Online dictionaries (e.g., Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, 2003-2008) now typically define "xenology" as "the scientific study of extraterrestrials, esp. their biology."
Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization was privately published and circulated in hardcopy form during its writing in 1975-1979 and after its completion in 1979.
Capsule Summary of Xenology
An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization
— First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, 1975-1979, 2008
- History of the idea of extraterrestrial life
- Comparative planetology
- Stars, and galaxies
- Interstellar communication techniques
- Sociology and legal issues pertaining to first contact
- Appropriate interaction protocols pertaining to first contact
From: Inverse Science By Graham Templeton on May 10, 2017
Robert Freitas was still in college when he started his now-legendary handbook to alien life. Published in 1979, Xenology offered some of the first — and still among the only — serious academic discussion of potential extraterrestrial biology, culture, and more, including, yes, ray guns and orgasms.
It wasn’t just errant musings. Freitas, who would later make his name as an emerging tech researcher, winning the 2009 Feynman Prize for his work in nanotechnology, included more than 4,000 scientific references and laid the groundwork for a quietly expanding field.
Xenology is “the most comprehensive and systematic study of extraterrestrial life, intelligence, and civilization I am aware of,” philosopher Clement Vidal wrote in The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective. “I consider it a rare scientific masterpiece.”
In an email with Inverse, Freitas took credit for laying out the first coherent discussions on various topics.
“For example, my discussion of possible alien blood chemistries was entirely novel, and I was the first to describe the possibility of coboglobin-based blood. I did the first technical discussion of thalassogens, though Asimov had coined the term a few years earlier. I invented the Sentience Quotient, a scale of brain power large enough to encompass intelligences 40 orders of magnitude superior to humans. I offered the first coherent discussions of alien weapons technologies, possible planetary sky colors, alien skeletons, alien locomotion, alien sex, the number of legs or fingers an alien might possess, possibilities for alien psychology, alien political systems, alien music, and many other specific topics. Lots of ‘firsts’ in this book!”
In case you’re wondering about alien orgasms, Freitas says it’s hard to know. Although orgasms may be seen as an evolved mechanism for promoting mating, they are absent in many organisms, including some mammals. “For this reason, xenologists remain extremely cautious in extending this extraordinarily satisfying response to all bisexual aliens,” Freitas writes in Xenology.
Xenologist Robert Freitas put the USS Enterprise from Star Trek on the cover of his book.
We reached out to the researcher to get a better understanding of this singular work. How did such a foundational text come from a college student? And what does its creator think the future holds for the field(s) he helped to define?
How did you first come to this field and get educated in it?
I can clearly recall the first time I was exposed to the idea of alien life. I think I was in 7th grade, wandering around in the school library and randomly picked out an interesting-looking book that turned out to be my first exposure to science fiction. It was about some colonists on the planet Mercury who encountered an alien intelligence that was in the shape of ball lightning. I’d long forgotten the title, but with the advent of the Internet, a few years ago I tracked it down online (Battle on Mercury by Erik Van Lhin), purchased a copy, and re-read it with great fondness. As they say, you never forget your “first time”.
At college in the early 1970s, I read a lot of Larry Niven’s work, including his short stories and most memorably his Ringworld classic. As a physics major, I recall trying to work out the physics of ringworld-like structures around stars, the gravitational fields to be expected around hypothetical toroidal planets, and the physics of transcendental tachyons (which travel at infinite speed at zero energy) and rotating black holes. I also became a long-time subscriber to Analog Science Fiction magazine.
The Ph.D. track in physics looked unappealing for various reasons, so I entered law school at the University of Santa Clara. My first two published articles, in 1977, concerned the legal rights of extraterrestrials if they landed on Earth. Obviously, I was not interested in the usual topics that captivate most law students like contracts, torts, and corporate law! I did take patent law, and international law, and also did a special research project on “Survival Homicide in Space.” I knew by then that I didn’t fit the usual mold and didn’t want to practice law, but I’ve never been a quitter. So I finished my Juris Doctor degree, even though I never took the bar exam.
By late 1974, I’d already begun working on what would become my first “magnum opus” type book, to be called Xenology. It was my first book project, and it exemplifies what has become a hallmark of all my books: an encyclopedic collection of information that effectively defines a new field by creating a framework that describes all of the component elements of the new field, then describes each of the components in sufficient detail to create a convincing, comprehensive, and heavily referenced conceptual foundation that can easily be built upon by others to extend the field.
Existing knowledge and ideas are used when such exist, and where they don’t, I fill the gaps with new ideas of my own or new approaches that are often inspired by information in related or analogous fields. At the time, the only book that remotely approached what I was trying to accomplish with Xenology was Shklovskii and Sagan’s masterful 509-page tome Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966), but even that one was missing most xenological topics of interest.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I basically read every book and every paper I could find on the subject of extraterrestrial life, intelligence, technology, and communication — literally four or five thousands of items including popular articles, technical papers, books, NASA documents, Russian translations, etc. I took copious notes and slowly began organizing the information into a coherent whole.
The writing of the book was a labor of love.
It was done part-time over about five years, during and after my time in law school. As noted in the Preface of the book itself, the research was done pre-Internet, so all the references had to be located in hardcover printed versions in book-sized volumes on dusty library shelves, then carried to the xerox machine and photocopied for a nickel a page. If you stacked it up, I’d probably have 30 linear feet of material shoved in filing cabinets from this time period. Also, there were no computers with word processors, so everything had to be typed on an electric IBM Selectric typewriter (a relic I still possess, BTW), on sheets of paper, with illustrations literally pasted onto the typed pages. Copies of chapters for review had to be printed off at the copy shop, then mailed to the recipient in a large envelope via snail-mail.
It was another two decades before the entire work could be scanned into electronic form by a generous colleague, and then it was a few years after that before I could find the time to edit and clean up the electronic version sufficiently to make me comfortable with putting it online for general public access
What was the reaction at the time?
Most of my scientific reviewers were supportive, perhaps because most of them were sent only one or two chapters related to their known areas of interest or knowledge. Some were skeptical — especially a few of the radio SETI people like the late Barney Oliver — but these were offset by others like the late Ronald Bracewell, who strongly approved of my conclusions regarding probe SETI and with whom I had several discussions during my telescopic searches for ET probes.
I also got a signed postcard from the late SF writer Robert Heinlein, saying that he approved of my use of the word “xenology”.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, the book was not widely circulated, so its impact at that time was very low. The text has only been generally available for the last 10-15 years in electronic form. During that time, its influence appears to be growing via mimetic diffusion, but relatively slowly because I’ve not been promoting the book since my nanotechnology work fully occupies my time.
While I didn’t coin the term “xenology,” I was certainly one of the first to recommend its general usage to describe the field, in a very brief item published in Nature in 1983. Up until then, people were calling the field “exobiology” or the even more etymologically defective “astrobiology”, and in some contexts even “SETI”, “extraterrestrial communication”, “life in the universe”, and other phrases that were sometimes used to discuss broader aspects of the field.
To some extent this confusion still exists today, though the term “astrobiology” seems to have caught on to refer to the subfields described in Chapters 4-8 of my book. But xenology as a comprehensive term for the entire field of “alien studies” has not yet caught on in the mainstream scientific community, perhaps in part because I didn’t attend conferences and pursue high visibility in the 1970s and 1980s, and perhaps in part because so much of the material in my book is commonly deemed too “speculative” for serious scientific discourse. (After the book was written, Titan was discovered to have open oceans, after which my discussion of thalassogens may have seemed a little less “speculative”.) The widest usage at present of the word “xenology” in the manner I use it may be in the science fiction community.
I’ve been out of the field for a long time, so I haven’t read the recent literature and thus may be a poor judge of the book’s legacy. However, I’ve been noticing the work getting cited more and more often as time goes on. Every month or two, someone contacts me by email about the book, out of the blue. A while back, one fellow put up a mirror with my permission, and another fellow laboriously converted the entire book into a different format that he likes better, on his own time.
With exo-planetology ramping up in recent years, what future do you see for this area of thinking and research?
With a thousand extrasolar planets now known, several of them Earth-sized, theoretical planetology is experiencing a huge rebirth. This could lead to a corresponding rebirth in the entire field of xenology.
However, I would caution that the full import of the emerging technologies of AI and nanotechnology have not been sufficiently factored into everyone’s assessment of the possibilities. Given the speed at which these two “exponential” technologies are emerging in human civilization, one must assume that other intelligent species on other worlds would have experienced similar exponential technological growth. This has major implications both for what we might find out there, and for what we might not find out there.
From: Fantastic Worlds
© 2013 by Jordan S. Bassior
Xenology – the scientific study of alien life and civilizations – is a science unique in that we haven’t yet found any alien life or civilizations to study. Why, then, does the discipline exist? After all, there are no real sciences of, say, demonology or unicornology, because we’ve never discovered any real demons or unicorns. (Mystics and fantasists compile lists of imaginary demons, and fantastists and fangirls lists of imaginary unicorns, but this is not the same as “scientific study” of a subject).
The difference is that we have a very strong suspicion that alien life and civilizations do exist, for the very good reason that we exist, and the same forces which caused life and intelligence on Earth have probably caused life and intelligence on at least some other planets. We bother to discusss the issue scientifically, even though we haven’t found any such life and civilizations yet, because for various reasons such alien life and civilizations, if and when discovered, are bound to be of great significance to both the study and the destiny of the life and civilization which has originated on Earth.
The Universe is very large. As we learn more about its structure it becomes apparent to us that the natural forces which generated terrestrial planets around Sol have also generated terrestrial planets around other stars, and what we know of chemistry and paleontology make it very likely that these forces have also generated ecosystems on at least some of those worlds. Terrestrial planets seem to be common enough that it is very likely that there are alien ecosystems in some of the nearby star systems – say, within 100 or so LY of the Earth.
Such ecosystems would be important to us because they would give us a wider informational base from which to study our own ecosystem. As long as we have only one example of an evolved ecosystem (Earth’s) to go by, we cannot tell which aspects of that ecosystem are essential to being an ecosystem, and which are chance and incidental features of our particular ecosystem. Also, since any ecosystem is essentially a colossal natural experiment, taking place over a whole planetary surface and lasting billions of years, it would be rather surprising if we didn’t find some unique and useful results from any particular new ecosystem we studied.
Paleontology tells us that it takes a planet merely a few hundred million years to generate an ecosystem, but billions of years to create sapient life. Consequently, sapience should be much rarer than life. It would be surprising if there was no alien life within 100 LY of Earth (indeed, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising if some existed in our own star system); it would not be all that surprising if there were no alien sapients within that radius. Furthermore, since civilization (agriculture plus writing) occurred fairly late in the history of the ape family, and spacefaring fairly late in the history of civilization, we might expect to find many savage for each civilized sapient race, and many planetbound for each spacefaring civilization, unless of course existing spacefaring civilizations have already colonized many nearby star systems.
Everything I’ve said about alien life applies to alien sapience, civilizations and spacefaring. Alien sapients would represent different experiments in being smart; alien civilizations in being civilized; alien spacefarers in being scientific. We would learn through the study of such beings just which aspects of our current sapience, civilization and science are essential, and which accidental. Additionally, we should be aware that alien civilizations, especially spacefaring ones, might pose a threat to us – it is obviously theoretically possible for such civilizations to attack us, and if they exist they might. So from purely selfish, even insular motives, we should locate any which happen to be in our vicinity, and be on our guard against them.
Do we know for certain that any of this exists? No, not yet, and that’s why this is a curious science, for it is studying something of whose reality we cannot be certain. What is certain is that the more we study the Universe beyond our lonely planet, the wider the base of information we gain for an estimation of the frequency of alien life, sapience and civilization, and hence the more solidly-grounded becomes xenology.
It is dangerous to attempt to walk through our existence as a species with our eyes squeezed firmly shut – better to open them wide to the wonders of the Universe. And, while we’re dong so, keep a lookout for the tigers.
Hi, I thought this might be useful for people:
Xenology - An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization is the almost complete, free online version of a comprehensive resource book for sci-fi writers and other interested people.
It's from the 1970s, so the science isn't entirely accurate anymore (especially fields like biochemistry and exobiology were still in their infancy back then), but I think it's still very useful and interesting.
It's written by a guy who now researches nanotechnology and who was involved with SETI and political advocacy for space exploration, so I'm fairly confident he researched this as well as he could back then.
I haven't read all of it yet, but judging from the fields that aren't my speciality, it seems understandable enough for laypeople.
From: Portal to the Universe – 3 Dec 2010
In 1979, the scientist, inventor (and then-newly minted lawyer) Robert A. Freitas, Jr. published the fascinating book Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization.
Freitas has now graciously published the entire book on the web for free.
It has a good summary of Andrew Haley's and Ernst Fasan's work on Metalaw, and another section detailing Fasan's elaboration of Haley's Metalaw accompanied by a useful table containing dozens of attempts by other authors to articulate metalegal concepts.
What caught my attention, however, was yet another section that contains some valuable criticism of Metalaw, criticism which obviously predates my own paper critical of Metalaw for its failure to contemplate the likely machine nature of ETI.
Freitas is skeptical of Metalaw' reliance on Kant's Categorical Imperative (and by implication, Metalaw's reliance on the natural law theory of jurisprudence).
Freitas points out that Kant ignores "the possible existence of a sentience of a qualitatively higher order than that possessed by humanity."
Freitas suggests that Ernst Fasan "falls into the same anthropocentric trap" by regarding "human-style intelligence as 'the highest possible level of life.' " Pointing out that multiple orders of higher sentience are possible (and quite likely given the likely ...
What is Metalaw?
According to Dr. Ernst Fasan, Metalaw is “the entire sum of legal rules regulating relationships between different races in the universe.” Metalaw is the “first and basic ‘law’ between races” providing the ground rules for a relationship if and when we establish communication with or encounter another intelligent race in the universe. Dr. Fasan envisioned these rules as governing both human conduct and that of extraterrestrial races so as to avoid mutually harmful activities.
Attorney Adam Korbitz presents a guide to exploring the relationship between the pioneering metalegal work of Andrew G. Haley and Dr. Ernst Fasan, and the scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
They are not, and have never been, simple characters in children’s books. They were keepers and teachers of ancient secrets, rulers and caretakers of vast stretches of Earth land, and they came from a distant land beyond the visible star-dome of the night sky. Their presence is felt far and wide in graven images and statues of stone, their influence resonating clear to this very day.
Dragons show up everywhere, ubiquitously powerful, undeniably otherworldly, and infinitely wise. Ancient mythology is repleted with it from every corner of the world. Archaeology and palaeontology offer tantalizing clues about the dragons that roamed the lands in ancient times. And now, they are showing up in areas once thought free of mythical beings — that of genetics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, and xenology, which is the scientific study of all aspects of extraterrestrial life, intelligence, and civilization.
For more information about Xenology, click on the image of the book or follow this link here for a free online copy of the 1979 book entitled Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intellignece, and Civilization, by Robert A. Freitas Jr. This book is rather dated, but it details the very first written document about the brand new science field which is still in its infancy due to the nature of the subject matter.
For a different extrapolation of the subject matter, Dr. David Brin talks about Xenology here, in his article published in 1983, entitled Xenology: The Science of Asking Who’s Out There.
To be perfectly honest, if I had been given the chance and the choice (and the funds needed) I would have happily followed in this line of research during my years at the University, if there was ever such a thing available to be studied. But you see, there is hardly anything out there openly that can be studied. What available material is locked down so tight, it would be just about impossible to sneak a peek, let alone do a serious graduate-level scientific study on it.
And this is such a crying shame that we are not given access to study about this — most especially because we are living descendants of this ancient legacy.
But there is hope.
The great thing about living in this day and age is the crazy awesome access we all have to information about anything we ever wish to study. As Donny Miller so wisely said, "In the age of information, ignorance is a choice." And so I dig and dig and dig, and what I find is a treasure trove of knowledge out there, dug up in bits and pieces by very smart folks — folks like Dr. Joe Lewels who wrote, in his article for FATE magazine titled Humanity’s Historical Link to the Serpent Race:
As long as humanity has kept records of its existence, legends of a serpent race have persisted. These myths tell of a mysterious race of superhuman reptilian beings who descended from the heavens to participate in creating humankind and to teach the sciences, impart forbidden knowledge, impose social order, breed with us, and watch over our development. The serpent like beings were not alone, but were part of a retinue of super beings thought to be gods by the ancients.
This is by no means new information. It is as old as dirt. Clay tablets taken from Sumeria said the exact same thing, only more belabored and far far more colorful. Go to other corners of the world and the story is the same, only the names and places have been changed.
The idea of a reptilian race does not fill me with great dread, or fear, or horror, or shock, or revulsion. It does none of those things because I grew up hearing about my ancient ancestors and their deep family ties with dragons. The legend speaks of Lạc Long Quân whose maternal grandfather was a dragon living under a lake, and Âu Cơ, his wife, who gave birth to my ancient ancestors.
Dragons are not just associated with good luck, good fortune, and wisdom, they were also one of my ancestors!
Please allow me to introduce you to Dracorex. He looks just like a dragon doesn’t he?
Look at the bony protrusions! Look at the horns, the snout, look at the eye sockets! He’s a dragon straight out of mythological legends! Yet, he is as real as can be.
Dracorex is a 66-million-year-old dinosaur that was found in the continent of North America. To-date, there is only one fossil of Dracorex found, but that does not mean that only one existed. I am not saying that Dracorex is a member of the serpent-like beings who were such a huge part of our culture. I am simply saying that the existence of Dracorex is an established fact, but other than the one specimen found, there has been no other. In other words, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
This opens up the high probability that there are dragon bones out there…we just haven’t been able to find them yet…or even more likely, we haven’t been able to identify them as such for some inexplicable reason.
We only need to look within to find that missing evidence. In my next posting, I will discuss further, the biological link between us modern humans and our ancient ancestors, the serpent beings.
Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intellignece, and Civilization. Robert A. Freitas Jr., J.D.
Xenolgoy: The Science of Asking Who’s Out There. David Brin, Ph.D.
Humanity’s Historical Link to the Serpent Race. Joe Lewels, Ph.D.
(continue to Dragons (Part 2): The Genetics)
The History of an Idea
2.1 Ancient Beginnings
2.2 The Long Interregnum
2.3 Plurality of Worlds and Divine Purpose
2.4 Science and Science Fiction
The Aliens Among Us
3.1.1 Extraterrestrial Intervention in
3.1.2 Extraterrestrial Cultural Intervention
3.1.3 Extraterrestrial Artifacts
3.2.1 Why Believe in UFOs?
3.2.2 The Evidence for UFOs
3.2.3 The UFO Game
3.3 The Resident Aliens
Xenology: The Context of the Universe
4.1 The Universe
4.3 The Milky Way Galaxy
4.4 The Stars
General and Comparative Planetology
5.1 Planetary Evolution
5.3 Planetary Atmospheres
5.4 Planetary Meteorology & Astrogeology
5.4.1 Climate and Weather
5.4.2 Sky Colors
5.5 Planetary Habitability
A Definition of Life
6.2 What Is Life?
6.2.1 The Traditional Answer
6.2.3 Towards a Definition of Life
The Origin of Life
7.1 Historical Views on the Origin of Life
7.2 Cosmochemical Evolution
7.3 Early Chemical Evolution on Earth
7.3.1 Prebiotic Synthesis
7.4 Proteins and Cells
7.5 Nucleic Acids and DNA
7.6 Early Biological Systems
8.1 The Argument for Diversity
8.1.1 Temperature Chauvinism
8.2 Alternative Biochemistries
8.2.1 The Limits of Carbon Aqueous
8.2.2 Alternatives to Water
8.2.3 Alternatives to Carbon
8.3 Exotic Lifeforms
10.1 Finding the Energy to Live
10.3 Animal Metabolism and Respiration
10.4 Alien Blood
11.1 Specialization and Symmetry
11.2.1 The Challenge of Gravity
11.2.2 Meeting the Challenge: Skeletons
11.3 Alien Locomotion
11.3.1 Aquatic Locomotion
11.3.2 Travel by Land
11.3.3 Avian Propulsion
12.1 Is Sex Necessary?
12.2 The Bisexual Universe
12.2.2 Optional Sex
12.3 Alien Sex Practices
12.3.1 Alien Orgasms
13.1 Tactile Senses
13.3 Acoustical Senses
13.3.1 Two-Dimensional Sound
13.3.2 Three-Dimensional Sound
13.4 Electrical and Magnetic Senses
13.5.1 Visible Vision
13.5.2 Infrared Vision
13.5.3 Radio Vision
13.6 Alien Senses
14.1 Evolution of Intelligence
14.1.1 In the Beginning
14.1.2 The Triune Brain
14.2 Juvenile Extraterrestrial Intelligences
14.2.1 Genetic Sentience
14.2.2 Brain Sentience
14.2.3 Communal Sentience
14.3 Alien Consciousness / Sentience Quotient
Energy and Culture
15.1 Type I Civilizations: Planetary Cultures
15.2 Type II Civilizations: Stellar Cultures
15.3 Type III Civilizations: Galactic Cultures
15.4 Type IV Civilizations: Universal Cultures
16.1.1 Intelligence Amplification
16.1.2 Genetic Surgery
16.1.3 Genetic Hybrids / Synthetic Genes
16.1.4 Ectogenesis and Cloning
16.2.2 The Limits of Immortality
16.3 Androids and Cyborgs
16.3.1 Androids and Organleggers
16.3.2 The Bionic Alien
16.3.3 Enter the Robot? (aka. Uploading)
16.4 Machine Life
16.4.1 Artificial Intelligence
16.4.2 Robots and Robotics
16.4.3 Machine Evolution
17.1 Communication vs. Transportation
17.2 Relativistic Starflight
17.3 Conventional Interstellar Propulsion
17.3.1 Nuclear Pulse Propulsion
17.3.2 Controlled Fusion Rocket
17.3.3 Interstellar Ramjet
17.3.4 Beamed Power Laser Propulsion
17.3.5 Total Conversion Drives
17.4 Exotic Propulsion Systems
17.4.1 Gravity Catapults
17.4.2 Antigravity / Reactionless Field Drives
17.4.3 Tachyon Starships
17.4.4 Momentum Interconversion Drives
17.4.5 Statistical Transport
17.4.6 Black Holes and Space Warps
17.4.7 Teleportation / Transporter Beams
17.5 Time Travel
17.6 Interstellar Navigation
17.7 Generation Ships / Suspended Animation
18.1 Chemical, Biochemical,
and Biological Weaponry
18.2 Bionic Weaponry
18.3 Sonic Weapons
18.4 Photonic Radiative Weaponry
18.5 Particulate Radiative Weaponry
18.6 Nuclear Explosives
18.7 Climate Modification and
High Technology Weapons
18.8 The Ultimate Weapon
Planetary Engineering and
GHT = Galactic High Technology
19.1 Alien Materials Technology
19.1.1 New Forms of Matter
19.1.2 Energy Storage / Mining Techniques
19.2 Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering
19.2.2 Space Habitats
19.2.3 Planet Moving and Star Mining
19.2.4 Large Scale Biospheric Engineering
19.2.5 Galactic Megastructures
20.1 Biological Evolution
20.1.1 Evolution Rates
20.2.1 Energy Ecology
20.2.2 Competition and Aggression
20.2.3 Universal Emotions
20.3 Early Technological Civilizations
20.3.1 Telluric Civilizations
20.3.2 Aquatic Civilizations
20.3.3 Avian Civilizations
20.4 Alien Social Systems
20.4.1 Models for Extraterrestrial Societies
21.1 Dimensions of Extraterrestrial
21.1.1 Governance Scales
21.2 Alien Political Organizations:
21.2.5 Xenopolitics: Tentative Conclusions
21.3 Extraterrestrial Organizational
21.3.1 System Complexity
21.3.2 System Structure
21.3.3 System Stability
21.4 Strategic Galactography
21.4.1 The Economic Viability of
Interstellar Cargo Transport
21.4.2 Galactic Trade Routes
21.4.3 Interstellar War
22.1 Alien Religion
22.2 Alien Ritual
22.2.1 Religious Rites
22.2.2 Extraterrestrial Cults
22.3 Ethics and Law
22.3.1 Extraterrestrial Ethics
22.3.2 Legal Universals
22.4 Philosophy and Knowledge
22.4.1 Alien Logic
22.4.2 Time, Language, and Space
22.4.3 Science and Paradigmology
22.5 Extraterrestrial Aesthetics
22.5.2 Alien Painting and Surface Arts
22.5.3 Dance and Sports
22.5.4 Alien Sculpture and Architecture
Abodes of Life: The Search Begins
23.1 Theoretical Galactic Demography
23.1.1 The Drake Equation
23.2 Observational Galactic Demography
23.2.1 Direct Observation of Alien Planets
Interstellar Communication Techniques
24.1 The Cosmic Miracle
24.2 Extraterrestrial Signaling
24.2.1 Alternative Channels: Neutrinos,
HEPs, Gravitons and Tachyons
24.2.2 Electromagnetic Waves and
24.2.3 Acquisition and Artificiality Criteria
24.2.4 Alien Message Contents
24.2.5 SETI: Yesterday and Today
24.3 Extraterrestrial Starprobes / Artifacts
24.3.1 Why Probes are Better
24.3.2 Mission Profile
24.3.3 The Nature of Alien Artifacts
24.3.4 Project Daedalus
Theory and Practice of First Contact
25.1 First Contact and Metalaw
25.1.1 Basic Metalaw
25.1.2 Fasan's Metalaws
25.1.3 Universal Thermoethical Principles
of First Contact
25.2 The Character of First Contact
25.2.1 Mass-Energy Scales of Contact
25.2.2 Information-Rate Scales of Contact
25.2.3 Generalized First Contact Taxonomy
25.3 First Contact Protocols and
25.3.1 Encounters Between Equals:
The 0/0 Contact
25.3.2 Gods and Primitives: 11/0 Contact
25.3.3 Trees and Humans: The 0/10 Contact
25.3.4 Higher-Order Contacts
First Contact and the Human Response
26.1 Military and Political Response
26.1.1 Remote Contact
26.1.2 Direct Contact
26.1.3 Surprise Contact
26.2 Public Reaction and the Press
26.2.1 Rumor and Credibility
26.2.2 Panic and Mass Hysteria
26.3 Legal Issues of First Contact
26.3.1 Alien Animals
26.3.2 Legal Standards of Personhood
26.3.3 Extraterrestrial Persons
26.3.4 Aliens and American Law
26.4 Human Sociocultural Response
26.4.1 The Acculturation of Humanity
26.4.2 Social Impact of First Contact
26.4.3 The Religious Response
26.4.4 Impact on Science and Technology
What, exactly, is “xenology”? As described by the subtitle of this book, xenology may be defined as the scientific study of all aspects of extraterrestrial life, intelligence, and civilization. Similarly, xenobiology refers to the study of the biology of extraterrestrial lifeforms not native to Earth, xenopsychology refers to the higher mental processes of such lifeforms if they are intelligent, xenotechnology refers to the technologies they might possess, and so forth.
I was among the first to attempt to popularize the “xeno-“ prefix in association with the general study of extraterrestrial life (e.g., see my letter to Nature, below). However, credit for coining the xeno-based terminology in this usage is generally given to the renowned science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (starting in The Star Beast, Scribner, New York, 1954 HTML commentary), though the first use of the related word "xenologist" is apparently attributable to L. Sprague de Camp ("The Animal-Cracker Plot," Astounding Science Fiction 69(July 1949); "The Hand of Zei," 1950).
The scientific usage of the xeno- terminology was subsequently defended in the mainstream scientific literature by Heinlein and Harold A. Wooster in a 1961 article published in the journalScience (R.A. Heinlein, H. Wooster, "Xenobiology," Science 134(21 July 1961):223-225 PDF) and subsequently by myself in a 1983 article published in the journal Nature (R.A. Freitas Jr.(CV), "Naming extraterrestrial life," Nature 301(13 January 1983):106 HTML HTML). (Heinlein had confirmed to me, by personal correspondence in August 1980, that he still regarded his coinage as both valuable and correct.)
My article in Nature drew a complaint ("Xenology disputed," Nature 302(10 March 1983):102) from four specialist researchers claiming to represent "20 research groups in at least eight countries" who preferred to retain use of "xenology" for the study of xenon concentrations in meteorites (an argument that would not apply to other uses of the xeno- prefix) but their plea has largely failed. By December 2008, Google listed 20,600 entries for "xenology" of which only 1140 referred to xenon and most of the rest referred to the extraterrestrial usage. Online dictionaries (e.g., Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, 2003-2008) now typically define "xenology" as "the scientific study of extraterrestrials, esp. their biology." So far, the mainstream field seems to have settled on the name “astrobiology” (the biology of stars?), but I still harbor hope that the more etymologically correct name, xenology, can be applied to the more general field of study that I tried to help define, so long ago, with my book – titled Xenology (~500,000 words, ~150 illustrations, 4000+ references), First Edition.
Reading again the text that I first wrote 30 years ago, it feels as though this book has fallen through a time warp or a crack in time, or has just been removed from a time capsule. But while some of the material seems dated, much of it still appears fresh and new, and the synthesis of the field (of xenology) is still relevant and unique. The main purpose of this book was to help create a coherent new field of study called “xenology”.
As you read this book, please bear in mind that it was written before Sagan’s “Cosmos” TV series and predated the internet, the personal computer, the cell phone, most of genetic engineering, Ronald Reagan, all but the first few Space Shuttle launches, electronic word processors and spell checkers, and Google and online reference sourcing. It was written before the sulfur volcanoes of Io or the liquid seas of Titan had been discovered, before extrasolar planets had been observed, and before my own optical and radio telescope SETI searches and other writings on replicating systems and nanotechnology (and several years before nanotechnology had even been invented, via the 1981 PNAS paper and 1986 book Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler). Xenology predates the first engineering study of self-replicating systems by NASA in 1980, almost all of the important work on interstellar probe SETI, and the development of the entire field of molecular nanotechnology and medical nanorobotics. In the fictional sphere, Xenology also predates all the Star Trek and all but one of the Star Wars movies, and its writing began just 6 years after the theatrical release of the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
If this book is so ancient, why bother to publish it now? There are several reasons.
First, I have an emotional attachment to it, having spent so many years (5) of my life writing it, back in the late 1970s. Indeed, I wrote it during my time in law school, a very trying experience for someone accustomed to scientific thought processes. Writing this book helped keep me sane during those years. (The whole thing was typed on my trusty blue IBM Selectric typewriter, and the graphics were hand-drawn or paste-ups, which explains in part why it has taken so long to get this up into "print".)
Second, Xenology was my first major effort at bookwriting. It taught me how to research, organize and write a reasonably coherent and lengthy single-topic work. It was excellent training and taught me valuable lessons in scientific writing that I’ve put to good use in my subsequent work. Anyone who is familiar with my later work will recognize the early manifestations of my characteristic proclivity to organize information in a comprehensive, almost encyclopedic manner, imposing some coherence on the information to help create a foundation for a more rigorous discipline someday to come.
Third, the work contains many thousands of literature references – a style of writing that has also become my trademark. Please bear in mind that back in the late 1970s, all of these references had to be assembled “the hard way”. In those antediluvian days, you had to look things up in a hardbound citation index and then walk the stairs and aisles of a real bricks-and-mortar library to find the right shelf containing the exact volume that you needed, then photocopy the papers for a nickel a page. Xenology was completed more than 20 years before the advent of the World Wide Web made online literature searches and pdf document retrievals a snap.
Fourth, while this book is not as technically rigorous as my later books, there is enough good material here that I thought it deserved to see the light of day. It is also reasonably well written, and contains some unique and valuable insights that I’ve not seen published elsewhere in the last 30 years. So I think it still has a valuable contribution to make to the field.
Fifth, as far as I know there is still no single text that attempts to integrate the entire field, as Xenology does. The only book that comes close is Intelligent Life in the Universe by I.S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, but that was published in 1966.
I first got interested in the study of possible extraterrestrial life through the works of Carl Sagan in the science area and Larry Niven in the science fiction area, in the early 1970s. Also, my favorite physics professor at Harvey Mudd College, Thomas Helliwell, indulged my budding freshman curiosity about rotating black holes, tachyons, calculations on the gravitational stability of toroidal planets and the dynamical stability of ringworlds around stars. At HMC, freshman were required to conduct a full-time 1-month engineering project. For my project, I chaired a 7-man team to create a design for a fusion-powered manned interstellar spaceship ("Project MISEV").
I began accumulating materials for Xenology in 1974, and began the actual writing in 1975, finally completing the last chapter, Chapter 26, in early 1979. There were 27 chapters originally planned. I never got around to writing the introductory (Chapter 1) or concluding (Chapter 27) chapters, nor one other chapter in the middle (Chapter 9) that was intended to be a summary of the unmanned interplanetary spacecraft that had been sent to other planets as part of the actual “experimental” search for life in our solar system, with a particular focus on the Viking landers on Mars that conducted the first biochemical searches for life on another planet via direct sampling. The book contains some pretty speculative material in a few places, including material from speculative fact and science fiction writers when appropriate. But generally the text tries to stick to concepts and arguments that are grounded in some kind of precedent either in biology, technology, or the social sciences and the arts.
Xenology was privately circulated while it was being written in the late 1970s. The book was reviewed by 40 notable scientists (see below), who were first contacted by letter, then mailed one or more chapters, after which these reviewers generously offered constructive comments leading to revisions. I then attempted to find a mainstream publisher, but collected only rejection slips. Finally, a science fiction writer friend (James Hogan) recommended his book agent, Ashley Grayson, who, upon reading the entire manuscript, became very enthusiastic about its prospects. Ashley kindly spent a couple of years shopping it around to the general run of speculative science and science fiction publishers. We got a few nibbles, but in the end all the editors and publishers who reviewed it concluded that the book was too lengthy (hence necessarily would have to be too highly-priced per copy) to be a commercial success. The book continued to be privately circulated to a select few others, most notably some science fiction writers and editors of my agent’s acquaintance, throughout the 1980s. The full book was never published in print (hardcopy) form or offered for sale commercially.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I carved out about a dozen “science fact” articles from the book materials, which were published in Analog magazine and a number of other venues. Around this same time I became one of the principal advocates for interstellar communication via material probes rather than radio waves and published a number of technical papers on this subject. I also conducted the first SETI searches for possible orbiting alien artifacts in Earth-Moon orbits using optical telescopes, published the first engineering scaling study of a self-replicating interstellar probe, performed the first radio SETI search at the tritium hyperfine line (which, if detected, would have been unambiguously artificial), and participated in the first engineering design of a self-replicating lunar factory for NASA. These activities thoroughly distracted me from further pursuing publication of Xenology in book form.
By 1994, I’d begun my current career in nanotechnology, starting the research that would eventually lead to my first published book in the field, the first volume in the Nanomedicine series, and beyond. At a nanotechnology conference in May 1998 I met Robert Bradbury, who had a company doing life extension research but was also writing in the area of SETI and astroengineering topics. Bradbury expressed interest in my unpublished book, and after reading some of it, offered to scan it and place it online alongside his existing collection of SETI-related works. From mid-1999 to mid-2000, I xeroxed Xenology and snailmailed it to him, chapter by chapter, which he scanned in and formatted. He also paid a Russian colleague to manually type the first 4300+ references (about half of my accumulation, but including most of the references used in the book) since these were all handwritten in a notebook.
Because of the imperfect nature of the scanning process, a large number of typos crept into the text that had to be caught and manually corrected. Bradbury did a lot of this but could not catch everything. This was a job only the author could do. Also, the last two chapters included a lot of handwritten insertions into the typed text that could not be scanned, so this material (the two longest chapters in the book) was unusually heavily laden with typos, dropped sentences, missing fragments, and the like. My personal attention was required, but by this point I was employed full time as a nanotechnology Research Scientist at Zyvex, so I couldn’t spare any cycles for the necessary corrections – and again, progress on the book languished.
While I could not consent to Bradbury placing the uncorrected manuscript online for general access in its initial unedited rough form, I also could not find time to correct it. As a compromise, I agreed that individuals upon special request could view the materials, which were placed online at Bradbury’s private Aeiveos Corp. website. This at least afforded Bradbury and a few selected SETI researchers ready access to the materials during 2000-2008 on an invitation-only basis.
During the 2000s the number of requests for access to the manuscript continued to grow. So for the last few years I’ve been slowly working, in spare moments, to clean up the text, reformat the material to be consistent with my other online books, then put the book up for free public access at my own xenology.info website that I reserved in 2002 for just this purpose. I’ve largely resisted the urge to change much, making just minor editorial corrections where appropriate, adding Section numbers, renumbering Figures and Tables, and correcting typos, but generally avoiding bringing the book up to date which should be the job of the Second Edition (if one is ever written). Such updating and correction is desperately needed, but must await a proper thoroughgoing editorial process that will be undertaken (most likely) by others.
The First Edition was originally written in the style of Scientific American (e.g., pitched to a scientific layperson reader), and it maintains this non-academic style throughout. There are only a few mathematical equations in this book. The work is heavily referenced to the primary nontechnical literature on extraterrestrial life (and related material), and is well referenced to the primary technical literature in many specialized areas but not uniformly throughout.
Xenology was current as of 1979, but the field has made 30 years of progress since then. The reader will find numerous omissions of facts and valuable references that have been published in the intervening years, and probably even a fair number of outright errors which were unknown at the time of writing. I’ve resisted the urge to rework problems and present new views. Missing also are my own three SETI studies and a couple of dozen papers I wrote in the 1980s. Many concepts that are widely discussed today were relatively unknown back then; many others have found their way into science fiction during the intervening years. For the most part, the material has held up reasonably well. The first contact protocols, scenarios and taxonomy in Chapter 25 are still relevant today – and perhaps even more so, since they obviously also apply to artificial intelligences which are now much closer to fruition than they were thirty years ago. The governance scales in Chapter 21 can be used to generate thousands of different possible governmental forms; the study of interstellar governance complexity and stability has been only lightly studied academically to this day. My discussion of coboglobin-based blood (original to me) in Section 10.4 has not been replicated elsewhere. And so forth.
Most significantly, the First Edition of Xenology was written entirely in the “pre-nanotechnology” era, thus largely ignores this all-important coming development. Even so, I anticipated this field in a small way in Section 16.4.1 when I wrote: “If alien electronic artificial intellect is possible, how physically small might it be? The theoretical lower limit of cell size is about 400 Angstrom, a bit smaller than the tiniest known living organism (the PPLO). A brain with 1010 neurons of this size would neatly fill a minute cube one-tenth millimeter on a side. But artificially designed alien microbrains theoretically could be vastly smaller still. Using molecular electronics with components on the order of 10 Angstrom in size, 1010 microneurons could be packed into a space of a few microns. This is small enough to hide inside a bacterium, a fact which may have several very interesting consequences.” It remained for other authors (including myself, in later decades) to more fully explore those "interesting consequences".
I wish to sincerely thank the aforementioned Robert J. Bradbury for his constant encouragement and enthusiasm about this book, and for laboriously scanning my typewritten pages and converting them to an initial html form over a period of about 12 months during 1999-2000. Robert also painstakingly coded into html format all of the Tables and Figures, some of them very lengthy and very complex, by hand. Without Robert’s truly Herculean initial efforts on my behalf, I could not have found the personal time or energy to carry these materials across the finish line to completion. I also thank Robert for scanning in the images for numerous figures. Some of these images have poor legibility, but this is my fault, not Robert’s. These images were scanned from my copies of library originals some of which were in turn reproduced using an ancient wet xerographic process, causing them to become heavily grayed out with time. I also regret that the text is not more heavily linked. However, each paragraph and illustration in the book is tagged with an anchor point to facilitate direct URL citation.
Please note that the official version of the book, as corrected, restored, and formatted by the author, is now formally published at the http://www.xenology.info website. No other version should be cited as authoritative or regarded as authentic.
I also wish to belatedly thank my original reviewers who read parts of the manuscript and provided critical comments. This includes: R. McNeill Alexander, Norman J. Berrill, David C. Black, Jonathan Boswell, Ronald N. Bracewell, A.G.W. Cameron, J. Desmond Clark, Mary Connors, John D. Currey, Karl W. Deutsch, Stephen H. Dole, Frank D. Drake, Freeman J. Dyson, John F. Eisenberg, Francis R. Flaim, Robert L. Forward, Sidney W. Fox, Arthur Harkins, Thomas M. Helliwell, Sol Kramer, Paul Kurtz, Paul D. MacLean, Magoroh Maruyama, Stanley L. Miller, Marvin Minsky, Peter M. Molton, Barney M. Oliver, Leslie E. Orgel, George C. Pimentel, Cyril Ponnamperuma, William K. Purves, Tim Quilici, S. Ichtiaque Rasool, Jack D. Salmon, Charles L. Seeger, Mark Stull, Jill Tarter, Francisco Valdes, Gerard de Vaucouleurs, David H. White, and Edward O. Wilson. Most of their comments were integrated into the text but a few corrective items might have been missed. As a result I must apologize in advance for any errors in the original work that may have survived. All such errors should be attributed, and reported by email, solely to the author. I also thank Ashley Grayson for his efforts on my behalf.
Finally, I must thank my wife, Nancy Ann Freitas, for her patience and support during the writing of this book, more than three decades ago near the start of our married life together. Without her help and faith in me, this book simply could not have been written.